Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Washington Post on the Dover Ruling

The Wasghinton post has this analysis of yesterday's ruling against ID in the Dover, PA school district. (Free registration required.)

The article is trying to get at the basic points of Judge Jones' arguments, but I think the article is flawed in several respects.

First, the article is titled "Defending Science by Defining It," which suggests that Intelligent Design advocates are right when they say that evolution's defenders arbitrarily and illogically exclude ID from science by definition. This is not true - scientists do not arbitrarily exclude supernatural causation; this is a deliberate step initially taken by scientists hundreds of years ago, and it has proven fantastically successful. By asking scientists to include supernatural explanations in science, ID advocates are asking scientists to abandon a method that has succeeded extremely well for centuries; furthermore, by simply chalking up some phenomenon to an unexplained supernatural cause you essentially close off any motivation for further inquiry and will miss natural explanations that may be just beyond the horizon.

This is why it is so important in these cases to explain how science works, to define science, in order to show that ID fails as science. On the other hand, to tell someone that 'you're defending your position just by defining it so as to exclude an alternative position' (as the Post title hints at) is to suggest that someone really can't back up their position with arguments. That's not what's happening in Judge Jones' ruling.

The second major beef I have with this article is this phrase:

"When evolution's defenders find themselves tongue-tied and seemingly bested by neo-creationists -- when they believe they have the facts on their side but do not know where to find them -- this 139-page document may be the thing they turn to." (Meaning, that 139-page document that defends science by merely defining it?)

The only public setting were evolution's defender's are sometimes tongue-tied before neo-creationists is in staged debates in front of predominantly conservative Christian audiences that place a premium on rhetorical skill as opposed to thorough logic. In the literature, on the internet, in court, and in public school board meetings, evolution's defenders are not tongue-tied or missing facts. Anyone who has spent much time on this issue knows that a huge source of facts is at Talk Origins and NCSE; discussion and expertise can be found on The Panda's Thumb; there are huge written resources including excellent articles by evolutionary biologists Jerry Coyne (a New Republic Article) and H. Allen Orr (in The New Yorker), and many, many good books (I'm naming just a few of my favorites): Abusing Science, Tower of Babel, Intelligent Design and It's Critics, Scientists Confront Creationism, God, The Devil, and Darwin, Finding Darwin's God, What Evolution Is, Science as a Way of Knowing, the free book Science and Creationism from the National Academy. Those of us who work in the relevant fields turn to the research literature when we're looking for facts.

(If you're interested in reading what ID advocates have written, their most cited books are Darwin's Black Box, Darwin on Trial, Icons of Evolution, The Design Inference, and No Free Lunch; other representative books are Uncommon Dissent, The Design Revolution, and Mere Creation. If it looks like this list is slanted towards William Dembski, that's because he's by far the most prolific ID advocate.)

Given this body of work, why on earth did the Post writers suggest that tongue-tied evolution defenders finally have something to turn to now that the decision is out? Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled with the decision, but the Post article is just bizarre.

Furthermore, the article doesn't always connect logically:

"By contrast, intelligent design's views on how the world got to be the way it is offer no testable facts, choosing instead to rely on authoritative statements. Adherents posit, for example, that animals were abruptly created (many in the same form in which they exist today) by a supernatural designer."

I agree with the characterization of ID in the first sentence, but that first sentence is not really logically supported by the second, as it stands. You would have to point out that ID adherents accept abrupt creation of animals by appealing to authority (the Bible), or explain exactly why positing a supernatural designer is not testable.

This article aimed to analyze the decision in an unbiased way, but it just isn't thought through very well. I'm disappointed in the Post.

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